This week in our “Meet the Media” series, we hear from Mary Forgione, assistant travel editor for the Los Angeles Times.
What are you working on right now?
When the LA Times decided to launch an outdoors newsletter earlier this year, the coronavirus pandemic hadn’t yet hit. We held off for a bit, but then decided it was the perfect moment to remind readers that they can connect with nature, from their backyards to local hiking trails. The Wild (https://www.latimes.com/lifestyle/story/2020-07-23/the-wild) has been a big hit with readers and I love working on it. Each week, I get to point folks to three things to do in the outdoors — from walking a stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail to hearing a forest symphony at a local garden to aqua yoga on stand-up paddleboards at a local beach and so on. It also allows me to point people to Times coverage of important issues such as the fires, air quality, etc., that they may have missed. I love having a good mix of stories; it’s never about just one thing.
Tell us about your dream assignment.
Wow, that’s a hard one because I have so many. Some stories I would want to do right now: Hiking in Hawaii to show readers the best places to go, mountain biking with Rep. Adam Schiff in the local foothills (he likes mountain biking), taking off on The Camino in Spain and writing about best places to stay along the way.
Describe the wackiest story you’ve been involved with (or been pitched)
I don’t know if it’s the wackiest, but it’s certainly one of the most recent (a pandemic story pitch): Where to go snorkeling at night in LA’s beaches. I was like, Whaaaat? It’s a thing? I know about night scuba dives, but this was new to me. (Still waiting on that story.)
What is your PR pet peeve?
Sending me a release all about a restaurant, hotel, etc., and NEVER telling me where it is. I hate having to Google a place that someone just sent me three detailed pages about. In these digital days, I find myself more reliant than ever on PR reports for accurate information I can share with readers. Another pet peeve: People who send out a press release and then are hard to get a hold of or there’s no one prepared to speak to the topic. You just sent out the release? Weren’t you thinking reporters would call? This is a small and petty thing, but I think it’s worth mentioning. I know we all want to be conversational, but sometimes that can be grating. Notes with releases that say: Hope you had a great weekend OR wasn’t the weekend wonderful? Hope you got out there. I received a good number of these the weekend after my husband died. There’s no way the sender could possibly have known, but it just kind of wore me down and made me sadder.
You’ve been on the travel beat for a long time. Obviously COVID has made dramatic changes to the travel sector. How has travel reporting changed in that time? Over a longer period of time/since you began?
For me, Travel is an addiction. That’s one of the reasons why I love being an Assistant Travel Editor at The Times. I am my absolute best self when I travel, free of the routine of life and ready for adventure. COVID shut all of that down and left us covering travel in a very different way: how to get refunds on airline tickets and cruises, what states have quarantines, etc. After that, the whole tenor of travel has changed from “here are cool destinations to go to” to “how to travel in the age of coronavirus.” For me, it takes some of the fun out of the reporting. It’s hard to encourage readers to plan their dream travel trip when we just don’t know how/when this will all end. I would never have believed there would be a day when you couldn’t just hop on a plane to Paris if you so desired. But people are dying and struggling without jobs and money, so we have to walk a careful line. Lately, we’ve been focusing on local places to go and feel safe. That said, I think Travel reporting has changed a great deal. Those long armchair reads aren’t the way people want to get information; they go to their Insta, find a cool photo and say “I want to go there.” So travel writing is changing.
What media outlets do you follow?/What are you reading or listening to these days?
So so so many. As a Southern Californian, I have KPCC (my local NPR station) on all day to keep up on the fires, pandemic, social justice demonstrations, everything happening in real-time. I read/am glued to the L.A. Times, of course, because we aren’t all in the newsroom together so I don’t know what my colleagues are working on at any given moment. I like seeing what’s happening on social media channels (especially during the fires) and love to check Instagram for ideas. In addition to NYT and WSJ, I spend a fair amount of time on niche publications such as Outside online and national park and forest websites. I like PR Newswire, too, for openings or news I may have missed about travel destinations.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in a small Italian-American community in Connecticut. From a young age, I swear I was the only person in town who knew — palpably felt — there was a big world out there. It was a town where you lived next door to your mom, stayed close and raised a family. That wasn’t my trajectory. I remember in high school, going on a school trip to Europe (my first time) and one of my aunts saying, “Oh she has the travel bug; this trip will get it out of her system.” I hoped never to get travel out of my system — and I haven’t. I’ve backpacked to Machu Picchu, hiked routes in the Julian Alps and Nepal, taken a 100-mile walk in England, ran the Paris marathon and just generally traveled at foot level to take it all in. This pandemic has made me want to accelerate my bucket list as soon as we can safely travel again (hiking up Mt. Fuji is top of my list). These days, I like to run, hike and walk — all perfectly possible during the pandemic.
Any questions or comments for Mary? Feel free to leave them in the comments section below.